Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
Ottavio Broggio may have left a starburst of churches behind him, but only a few secular works such as this chateau. It makes a worthwhile diversion for those keen on the celebrated architect's work. It has more personality than any of his churches in Litomerice, the more so for the deliciously excessive rococo interior renovations by Josef Navratil.
Karlstejn is the Czech Republic's star castle and it lives up to the highest expectations. Perched on a crag that overlooks the Berounka river, and sporting a spotless paint job, this cluster of turrets, high walls and looming towers is as immaculately maintained as it is powerfully evocative.
There are two guided tours through the castle. Tour I (50 minutes) passes through the Knight's Hall, still daubed with the coats of arms and names of the knight vassals, Charles IV's bedchamber, the Audience Hall and the Jewel House, which includes treasures from the Chapel of the Holy Cross and a replica of the St Wenceslas Crown.
Tour II (70 minutes) must be booked in advance and takes in the Great Tower, the highest point of the castle, which includes a museum on Mocker's restoration work, the Marian Tower and the exquisite Chapel of the Holy Cross, with its decorative ceiling.
A Benedictine abbey was founded here in 1115 and, following repeated plundering in the Thirty Years' War, received a major facelift by prominent Bohemian artists Giovanni Santini and Kilian Ignatz Dientzenhofer. The main attraction is the Abbey Church of the Holy Virgin, rebuilt between 1712 and 1726 by Santini in an extraordinary 'baroque Gothic' style.
The church has the original floor plan of a Romanesque basilica, the longest in Bohemia (85m/279ft). The church itself is an improbable marriage of baroque flamboyance and Gothic severity that would verge on tongue-in-cheek if it wasn't so beautiful. A standard tour includes the cloisters, with several dozen allegorical sculptures by celebrated baroque sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun.
The abbey hosts hourly group tours. There are two circuits: Tour I (one hour) includes the monastery and church, while Tour II (45 minutes) takes in the chateau. In summer occasional classical concerts are held in the abbey's grounds.
Like the cherry on a cake, Telč's Renaissance chateau, part of which is known as the Water Chateau, guards the north end of the peninsula. Rebuilt from the original Gothic structure in 1553-56 by Antonio Vlach and 1566-68 by Baldassare Maggi, the surviving structure remains in remarkably fine fettle, with immaculate lawns and beautifully kept interiors.
Prague Castle is one of the most impressive buildings you will ever visit. It has a magnificent clifftop outlook and a 1000-year-old history going back to a simple walled-in compound in the ninth century. The scale of this castle is breathtaking - it qualifies as the biggest ancient castle in the world.
Prague Castle - Pražsky hrad, or just hrad to Czechs, and almost a small town in itself - is Prague's most popular attraction. According to the Guinness World Records, it's the largest ancient castle in the world - 570m/1870ft long, an average of 128m/420ft wide and covering a total area bigger than seven football fields.
Practically every day is a saint's day in the Czech Republic, and 'special days', festivals and public holidays are widely acknowledged. On 30 April in Prague, the Czech version of Walpurgisnacht, Paleni carodejnic(Burning of the Witches) is a pre-Christian festival for warding off evil. Politically incorrect witch burning is now replaced by all-night bonfire parties on Kampa Island and in suburban backyards. Growing more politically incorrect on Easter Monday each year is the old pagan tradition of Pomlázka where Czech men wander through their village swatting their favourite women on the legs with decorated willow switches. In May Prague hosts the rapidly growing Czech Beer Festival, where imbibers can sample 70 or so beers from around the country. The festival circuit then takes a high-culture turn for the May and June Prague hosts the Prazske jaro(Prague Spring) International Music Festival. Worth checking out also is Český Krumlov's International Music Festival, which is held every August in the stunning river town. The Christmas and New Year season closes the year quietly for most of the Czech Republic, but Prague is overcome with tourist revelry during a fast and furious holiday season.
When to go?
The high season and the best time to go is in May or September, when weather is mild and crowds fewer. Many museums, galleries, castles and the like are only open at this time. April and October are chillier but you'll benefit from smaller crowds and cheaper rooms. In July and August hostels are chock-a-block with students, especially in Prague. In winter, you'll likely get to see it all under a blanket of snow; camping grounds are closed, as are attractions in smaller towns but the time is right for skiing and other winter pursuits.
Most Czechs and Slovaks, like the rest. of Europe, take their holidays in July and August, and then again over the Easter and Christmas-New Year holiday period. Accommodation facilities are often booked; crowds, particularly in Prague and the mountain resort areas, can be unbearable; and prices spike to their highest. On the other hand, most festivals take place during summer months and the supply of cheap sleeps in university towns increases as student dorms are thrown open to visitors. High in the mountains, November through March is an additional high season.
Travel Visa Overview
Since March 2008 the Czech Republic has been part of the European Union's Schengen Agreement, and citizens of EU and EEA countries do not need a visa for any type of visit. Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, the USA and others can enter visa-free for up to 90 days. A full list of countries with visa requirements can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: www.mfa.cz.
European plug with two circular metal pins
Leeches & ticks
Tick-borne encephalitis is a serious infection of the brain that is spread by tick bites. Vaccination is advised for those travelling in risk areas who are unable to avoid tick bites (such as campers, forestry workers and ramblers). Two doses of vaccine will give a year's protection, three doses up to three years' protection. Shortlasting vaccines are available in the Czech and Slovak Republics.
Lyme disease is transmitted by deer ticks, which are only 1-2 mm long. Most cases occur in the late spring and summer. The first symptom is usually an expanding red rash that is often pale in the centre, known as a bull's eye rash. However, in many cases, no rash is observed. Flu-like symptoms are common, including fever, headache, joint pains, body aches and malaise. When the infection is treated promptly with an appropriate antibiotic, usually doxycycline or amoxicillin, the cure rate is high. Luckily, since the tick must be attached for 36 hours or more to transmit Lyme disease, most cases can be prevented by performing a thorough tick check after you've been outdoors.
Czech seasons are distinct. Summer (June through August), receives the highest temperatures and also the heaviest rainfall. The cold, bitter winter months of December, January and February often have temperatures reaching as low as -5°C (23°F) in the cities and -10°C (14°F) to -15°C (5°F) or even -30°C (-22°F) in the mountainous areas. They are tailor-made for skiing and other winter pursuits; the mountains receive about 130 days of snow a year, but other areas get coverage as well. Spring (late March to May) brings changeable, rainy weather and sometimes flooding. Autumn is also variable but temperatures can be as high as 20°C (68°F) in September.
History and Culture
With Prague's eminence as a beacon of European high-culture, it's no surprise that its influence spreads throughout the Czech Republic. Have your awe struck by the architectural splendour of castles, squares and old towns. Get a bellyful of the Czech Republic's finest beer and dumplings, and stroll through an old town square, relishing the echoes of a busker's violin.
Pre-20th Centure History
The arrival of the Slavs in the 5th and 6th centuries saw the beginning of the Czechs' chequered history. Its tribes adopted Christianity and united in the short-lived Great Moravian Empire (830-906), which came to include western Slovakia, Bohemia, Silesia, and parts of eastern Germany, southeastern Poland and northern Hungary. Towards the end of the 9th century, the Czechs seceded to form the independent state of Bohemia.
Prague Castle was founded in the 870s by Prince Borivoj as the main seat of the Premysl dynasty, though the Premysls failed to unite the squabbling Czech tribes until 993. In 950, the German King Otto I conquered Bohemia and incorporated it into his Holy Roman Empire. In 1212, the pope granted the Premsyl prince Otakar I the right to rule as king. His son and successor Otakar II tried to claim the title of Holy Roman Emperor as well as king of the Czechs, but the imperial crown went to Rudolph Habsburg. Strong rule under the Habsburgs brought with it Bohemia's Golden Age. Prague grew into one of Europe's largest and most important cities, and was ornamented with fine Gothic landmarks.
The late 14th and early 15th centuries witnessed an influential Church-reform movement, the Hussite Revolution, led by the Czech Jan Zizka, who was inspired by the teachings of Jan Hus. The spread of Hussitism had threatened the Catholic status quo all over Europe. In 1420 combined Hussite forces successfully defended Prague against the first of a series of anti-Hussite crusades, which had been launched with the authority of the pope. Though they were up against larger and better equipped forces, the Hussites repeatedly went on the offensive and raided deep into Germany, Poland and Austria.
In 1526 the Czech kingdom again came under control of the Catholic Habsburgs. On 23 May 1618, the Bohemian Estates, protesting against both the Habsburgs' failure to deliver on promises of religious tolerance and the loss of their own privileges, ejected two Habsburg councillors from an upper window of Prague Castle (they survived with minor injuries). This famous 'defenestration' sparked off the Thirty Years' War. The Czechs lost their rights and property and almost their national identity through forced Catholicisation and Germanisation, and their fate was sealed for the next three centuries.
In the 19th century, Bohemia and Moravia were swept by nationalistic sentiments. The Czech lands joined in the 1848 revolutions sweeping Europe, and Prague was the first city in the Austrian Empire to rise in favour of reform.
The dream of an independent state took shape during the 20th century, gaining momentum through the events of WWI. Eventually Czechs and Slovaks agreed to form a single federal state of two equal republics. The First Republic initially experienced an industrial boom; however, slow development, the Great Depression, an influx of Czech bureaucrats and the breaking of a promise of a Slovak federal state generated calls for Slovak autonomy.
Czechoslovakia was not left to solve its problems in peace. Most of Bohemia's three million German speakers fell for the dream of a greater Germany. Hitler demanded (and got) the Sudetenland in the infamous Munich agreement of 1938 and the Czechs prepared for war. Although Bohemia and Moravia suffered little material damage in the war, many of the Czech intelligentsia were killed and the Germans managed to wipe out most of the Czech underground. Tens of thousands of Czech and Slovak Jews perished in concentration camps. On 5 May 1945, the population of Prague rose against the German forces as the Red Army approached from the east. The Germans, granted free passage out of the city by the victorious Czech resistance, began pulling out on 8 May. Most of Prague was thus liberated before Soviet forces arrived the following day.
Czechoslovakia was re-established as an independent state. Attempts to consolidate its cultural identity - and punish its oppressors - included large scale deportations of German and Hungarian inhabitants. In the 1946 elections, the Communists became the largest party, with 36% of the popular vote. The 1950s was an era of harsh repression and decline as the Communist economic policies nearly bankrupted the country. Many people were imprisoned, and hundreds were executed or died in labour camps, often for little more than a belief in democracy. In the 1960s, Czechoslovakia enjoyed a gradual liberalisation. A new president, the former Slovak party leader Alexander Dubcek, represented a popular desire for full democracy and an end to censorship - 'socialism with a human face'. Soviet leaders, unable to face the thought of a democratic society within the Soviet bloc, crushed the short-lived 'Prague Spring' of 1968 with an invasion of Warsaw Pact troops on the night of 20-21 August. By the end of the next day, 58 people had died. In 1969, Dubcek was replaced and exiled to the Slovak forestry department. Around 14,000 party functionaries and 500,000 members refused to renounce their belief in 'socialism with a human face', were expelled from the Party and lost their jobs. Totalitarian rule was re-established and dissidents were routinely imprisoned.
The Communist regime remained in control after the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989. But on 17 November things changed. Prague's Communist youth movement organised a demonstration in memory of nine students executed by Nazis in 1939. A peaceful crowd of 50,000 were cornered, some 500 were beaten by the police and about 100 arrested. The following days saw constant demonstrations, and leading dissidents, with Vaclav Havel at the forefront, formed an anti-Communist coalition which negotiated the government's resignation on 3 December. A 'Government of National Understanding' was formed, with the Communists as minority members. Havel was elected president of the republic on 29 December and Dubcek was elected speaker of the national assembly. The days after the 17 November demonstration have become known as the 'Velvet Revolution' because there were no casualties. (In September 1992 Dubcek was seriously injured in a car accident near Prague, dying of injuries on 7 November. Conspiracy theorists have been busy ever since.)
In the late 20th century, voices for autonomy in Slovakia were getting stronger, and a vocal minority was demanding independence. Finally, it was decided by prime ministers of both republics and other leading politicians that splitting the country was the best solution. Many people, including President Havel, called for a referendum, but even a petition signed by a million Czechoslovaks was not enough for the federal parliament to agree on how to arrange it. In the end Havel resigned from his post, as after repeated attempts by the new parliament he was not re-elected as president. Thus, on 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist for the second time this century. Prague became the capital of the new Czech Republic, and Havel was promptly elected its first president.
Thanks to stringent economic policies, booming tourism and a solid industrial base, the Czech Republic saw a strong recovery in the initial years following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Many cities have received facelifts and the benefits of tourism are now spreading in areas outside of Prague. On May 1, 2004, the country celebrated the traditional day for workers with entry into the European Union. Improved access to European markets, foreign investment, and privatisation of previously state-owned businesses has produced robust increases in GDP of around 6% per annum and limited inflation to around 2%. However, the national unemployment rate has risen to almost 10% and greater numbers of younger, educated Czechs are leaving to work and study in other parts of the European Union, creating a skills shortage at home.
Life post-EU has also produced some political turmoil: the first parliamentary vote of no-confidence recorded in the history of the Czech Republic happened on the eve of the country's assumption of the EU presidency in 2009. An interim government took power until elections could be held in 2010 and indefinitely postponed the adoption of the euro as the country's currency.
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